As the New Year begins, one common resolution is to get back into shape for the coming year. But as you know, most people give up their resolutions because they're difficult, and because of pain that comes from improper workout form. Before you hit the gym consider the following tips to have safe workouts in 2018.
1. Build your butt to boost squats
This might sound silly, but poor control of your gluteus maximus (your buttock muscles) can leave you susceptible to injury during workouts like squats.
If the gluteus is weak, your hip extension will be as well, and your spine might have to overcompensate, leading to strains. If you do squats, monitor yourself during the lowering motion and be sure you don't tip forward. You may want to spend a few weeks of specific gluteus strengthening before going into a squat workout.
One exercise that can help strengthen your gluteus is the prone hip extension. To do these, simply lie down and squeeze your buttocks, then lift one leg to perform a hip extension. Do three sets of 10, three times a week. And if possible, it never hurts to have a trainer watch your form.
On a side note, getting back and hip pain is normal during any new workout. If you're noticing some discomfort in your back and sides during these targeted sessions, ask a medical professional if a drug-free pain relief device like the FSA-eligible TENS therapy is right for you.
2. Never ignore your knees
When performing lunges, step-ups, squats or other cardio, a common mistake is allowing the knees to "roll in," allowing the knees to move forward past your toes. This puts pressure at the joint line, meniscus, and knee caps, among other body parts.
When lunging, keep knees in line with your ankles and inner toes. Imagine a glass wall coming up from your toes to help you keep your knee from moving too far forward, or consider using a knee brace or support to help maintain good form.
3. Harness your hips
Tight hip muscles can lead to injuries as well. During activities that require a lot of bending, like yoga poses and squats, a tight hip flexor will fire to help you balance especially if the glutes are weak. This overactivation can lead to stiff, painful muscles.
Tight hips can also pull at your spine creating excessive arching which can contribute to back and hip issues. Be sure to stretch your hip flexors and strengthen glutes.
4. Brace that back
During certain core workouts be careful to mind how far you arch the back. Many people think they're addressing their core, but poor form can leave them at risk of injuring it instead. A common mistake seen in the gym is arching or dropping of the back during the bird dog exercise (a position in which you're on all fours, alternately lifting an arm and the opposite leg).
Be sure to hold your spine straight, changing how high you kick your leg to avoid hyper-extending the back or rotating the hips. One helpful idea might be to brace your belly button towards your spine when performing the motion.
The chest muscles in the front have been shown to inhibit your upper back muscles. This prevents them from firing properly during your upper body workouts. It can contribute to unwanted motions such as shrugging shoulders while lifting which can lead to shoulder and neck issues.
A gentle stretch of the pecs for even one minute a day can help address these muscles and help prevent a slouching posture. But if your upper body workouts are a work in progress, consider an preventive support belt to keep your body position aligned.
6. Pace yourself!
It's important to build up gradually. Experts say that you should increase your activity (distance, intensity, weights) by no more than 10% per week.
Example: If you want to run 10 miles per week, increase it by one mile the next week. If you're currently lifting 20 pounds, try to increase by two pounds the following week, then modify accordingly. And as always -- be sure to warm up before any workout!